Two simultaneous second-half yellow cards ultimately cost Northampton Saints a Gallagher Premiership victory over Saracens, as the men in Black, Green and Gold went down 27-21 at Franklin’s Gardens.
Chris Boyd’s men led 15-8 at the break thanks to tries from Fraser Dingwall and Harry Mallinder, but controversial sin-bins for Lewis Bean and Taqele Naiyaravoro resulted in a 14-point swing in Sarries’ favour.
Saints showed great character to stay in the contest while down to 13, and gave themselves hope through the boot of Mallinder, but an intercept score from Ben Earl on 58 minutes left them with too much work to do.
The hosts gave a massive Gardens crowd something to cheer about after just three minutes, with Alex Coles latching onto a loose ball on halfway before bursting forward and finding Mallinder on his shoulder – with the fullback offloading inside to Dingwall who scampered home to the right of the posts.
In a strong wind Dan Biggar’s conversion sailed wide, but Saints were on fire and ripped Saracens to pieces again moments later.
Mallinder was at the centre of it again as Biggar switched direction in the midfield, and the fullback pinned his ears back to finish brilliantly under the posts.
Biggar’s routine conversion took the scoreline to 12-0 with just eight minutes on the clock, but Saracens hit back with a try of their own as Rotimi Segun beat a couple of defenders to score in the right corner.
And Northampton were caught offside in front of their own posts after 15 minutes, allowing visiting fly-half Manu Vunipola to reduce arrears to 12-8.
An entertaining opening quarter ended with a huge setback for Saints as Dan Biggar hobbled off the field after claiming a high kick; Mallinder slotted into the fly-half position with Matt Proctor coming onto the wing and Ahsee Tuala switching to fullback.
The hosts attacked from deep after Proctor’s break and with Saracens caught offside, Mallinder slotted his first kick from the tee of the afternoon.
Dingwall then came within inches of scoring another try as Cobus Reinach sent him through a gap, but the young centre was hauled down just short of the line and Dom Morris forced a knock-on from JJ Tonks as he looked to snipe over.
A couple of Saracens injuries somewhat took the sting out of the game but Saints still went into the sheds 15-8 to the good at the interval – although life became so much more difficult for the hosts as both Bean and Naiyaravoro saw yellow from referee Matthew Carley in the space of two minutes.
Sarries took advantage of their extra numbers as Jack Singleton rumbled over after a lineout drive, with Vunipola adding the extras to level the scores.
And it was a 14-point swing as with Saints short in the backfield, Alex Lewington made a break and a few phases later Nick Tompkins found a gap to score.
Northampton showed plenty of character to win the ball back deep in Saracens territory with just 13 men on the field, and as the visitors strayed offside, Mallinder stroked another penalty through the uprights to bring Saints within touching distance once again.
But another Saracens gut-punch followed as Earl intercepted Reinach on halfway and accelerated into the corner, taking the scoreline back out to 27-18.
Mallinder, excellent at fly-half, then burst through a gap and Saints were unlucky not to score as Dingwall could not find captain Teimana Harrison on the left wing and the ball bounced into touch.
Matt Gallagher was then sent to the sin-bin himself for a deliberate knock-on with 16 minutes remaining, and when Ben Glynn charged down box kick deep in Sarries territory, Saints smelled blood – but Naiyaravoro knocked on with the line at his mercy moments later.
Northampton had the advantage however and Mallinder reduced the deficit to six points with a penalty from in front of the posts, but despite several attacking opportunities inside the Saracens 22 in the final ten minutes, Boyd’s men had to settle for a losing bonus point ahead of next Friday’s trip to Worcester Warriors.